Sunday, June 21, 2020

Trump Defunding WHO Could Cost Us the Chance to Eradicate Polio Forever

,The Daily Beast•June 20, 2020

This article was published originally by PassBlue, a partner of The Daily Beast, which provides independent coverage of the United Nations. It was written by Fiona Shukri.

United Nations health agencies already struggling with a surging COVID-19 pandemic must now face the possibility the United States will abdicate its leading role fighting polio—just as the world gets tantalizingly close to eradicating it for good.


After Nigeria was declared free of wild poliovirus in 2016, Pakistan and Afghanistan became the globe’s only countries with recorded wild polio cases, with 12 and 49 cases, respectively. (Wild polio is different from the rare, more easily controlled “circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus,” of which there are 134 known cases worldwide. Communitywide vaccinations prevent the spread of both types of polio.)

But despite the success of polio vaccination efforts, the WHO is warning that failure to eradicate it from these last remaining areas could produce a resurgence worldwide, with as many as 200,000 new cases annually over 10 years. A mutated strain of poliovirus has been reported in more than 30 countries, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic slowing or stopping vaccination campaigns has been particularly dire for polio eradication—around 85,000 Congolese children have not received that vaccine.

President Trump’s withdrawal from the WHO on May 29 now threatens these polio-control efforts already complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Polio vaccination campaigns have been put on hold,” WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said at a media briefing during World Immunization Week in April. Poor countries are reporting shortages of vaccines due to border closures to contain the spread of COVID-19—and children, while at relatively low risk for severe illness and death from the novel coronavirus, remain at high risk for life-threatening infectious diseases like measles and polio, Ghebreyesus said.


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